Dr. Laura Wade made big changes with her veterinary practice this year.
She moved it from Lancaster to a newly renovated building in Clarence. And she decided to focus exclusively on avian and exotic pets, no longer treating dogs and cats, which had been about 10 percent of her clients.
The revised business model might seem risky, given all the Fidos and Fluffies out there as potential patients. But Wade said she is confident in her decision.
“It wasn’t a large part of our practice, but we felt that the clients we wanted to cater to were the ones that really didn’t want to have that other dimension,” Wade said. Some owners of birds and exotic animals prefer coming to a place where they won’t have potentially stressful encounters with dogs or cats, and where the veterinarians specialize in their type of pets.
Wade’s business, Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets, moved into its new home in July. The location includes three exam rooms, space for surgical procedures and an upstairs boarding area. The decor includes bird sculptures and a framed photo of a Galapagos marine iguana that Wade took while on a trip.
In setting up her new location, Wade drew upon ideas that she had seen and liked at other practices where she had worked over the past 15 years. She also visited exotic-exclusive practices in other states.
The switch to treating only birds and exotics also meant the new location did not require large kennels and could operate with a smaller pharmacy than if cats and dogs were seen there, Wade said.
With her specialized approach, Wade has received referrals from as far away as Batavia, Rochester and Erie, Pa.
Dr. Evan Reed helps Wade with the patient load, working with Wade on a part-time basis. One of his specialties is treating fish: anesthesia powder is dissolved in the water, the fish is treated on a moist surface, and then the fish is returned to fresh water to recover.
“People have some really expensive koi and saltwater tanks, so there are some people that are really into it,” Wade said.
Reed said the shift in business model means small-animal veterinarians don’t have to worry about referring their clients, since there is no risk the practice will take away a client’s dogs or cats.
Reed has treated all kinds of unusual creatures, including snakes, lizards and frogs. An eight-month-old kangaroo – a local resident’s pet – came in this month to have neurological problems checked out. “We got some treatment on board and referred him back to the doctor that was doing primary care,” Reed said.
Reed said keeping current on so many different species is challenging but rewarding when it comes to providing treatment.
Technicians who work at Specialized Care test a lot of animals’ blood work in house, which Wade says is an advantage over sending the work out. “A lot of the patients that come in, they’re very nonspecifically ill,” she said. “And to wait one to several days to find out what’s their kidney function, what’s their white blood cell count, is not good.”
Birds – including parrots, canaries and pigeons – account for about 50 percent of what Wade’s practice treats, and rabbits account for 30 percent. The rest comes from small animals, such as reptiles and amphibians. “We are trying to grow that section and make people aware that they can do things with their sick animal,” Wade said. “We can do a lot whole more than we used to. We know a lot more about the diseases.”
The practice also donates its services to treat injured wildlife, Wade said. A cardinal that was unable to fly was recently brought in for treatment. Wade will also make off-site visits on certain occasions, such as checking on a flock of chickens in the Northtowns.
The practice hopes to generate additional income by boarding pets, such as Kaden the macaw, who was there while its owner was away. Another client has booked the boarding room for her 10 birds in November 2013, when she is getting married.
Clarence officials welcomed Wade’s arrival. In a touch of symbolism, the property her practice revitalized is the former home of an antiques shop on Main Street in Clarence Hollow. The hamlet has struggled to develop a new identity since the departure of many of the antique shops that were once its hallmark.
The Clarence Industrial Development Agency plans to run an ad drawing attention to Wade’s business and the Clarence IDA’s role in supporting the project, said David C. Hartzell Jr., the agency’s chairman.
“That business is just great for the town of Clarence,” he said. “It’s the type of business we would love to attract.”
Hartzell said the project has three important things in its favor: It allows local residents to stay closer to home to have their avian and exotic pets treated; it brought in high-wage jobs; and it revitalized an old building in the Hollow.
Now that she has a new location and a revised format, Wade is working on drawing more customers. “Everybody that I’ve talked to that’s done this type of [exclusive business] model in different locations has done very well,” she said.